Thursday, September 9, 2021

Egyptian Parliamentary Polls and Parallel Presents


This piece is the second in a three-part series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), which uses Recorded Future to examine the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s political future. We’ll be hosting a webcast discussing this research next Thursday, April 12.


As covered in the last  post, the actors that comprise leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood has and does change over time. In the months following the January 25th uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood stepped into the vacuum left by Mubarak. More specifically, the younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood challenged the party’s older leadership, in some cases, deciding to desert or defect.

Using time windows to evaluate changes over time is a powerful analytical methodology. In unique cases, such as  that of a revolution, the political development under study shifts the paradigm. How to understand the indicators of an event which is not foreseen? With Recorded Future’s temporal analysis, we can look at a set period of time as it was forecast, actually happened, and covered afterward.

Figuring out the FJP and Detecting Defections

Post-January 25th, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Badie, feared that he would lose the support of the youth. Subsequently, he issued an edict forbidding any defections or creation of new parties. Shortly thereafter, the Muslim Brotherhood formed its own political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, with Mohammed Saad al-Katani as the head. As demonstrated previously, it is a quick process to visualize the key players and their relationships, which we can use for future searches.

In response, the younger elements of the Muslim Brotherhood gathered to discuss a new agenda for the party — one that focused on greater transparency in government, better relations with the West, and equality for minority Coptics and women. In the subsequent months, some Muslim Brotherhood youth formed a new party, Al-Tiyyar Al-Masri, or  “Egyptian Current Party” (ECP), which was part of the Revolution Continues Bloc.

As coalitions evolve and dissolve, it is complicated to follow each of the statements and responses by the various elements within a coalition. To track this element, I created a watchlists — of ECP members, other parties in the coalition, and members of the Islamist alliance. Typically to visualize shifting alliances, one would need the assistance of this guide from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace combined with this map from The Arabist blog. Below is a dynamic and time-shiftable network visualization of the players and parties in the Islamist alliance:

Network Map of Islamist Alliance

From this expanded network map, we may notice a few more players who hadn’t previously been on our radar, so we can create a watchlist from all these entities. Just as easily, it is possible to visualize the Revolution Continues Bloc and do the same. Now we have a more robust way to search, monitor, and visualize the evolving relationships.

Prognosticating Presidential Elections

How do we figure out what we are missing? Recorded Future’s toolset empowers an analyst to accelerate the process of hypothesis testing, by quickly identifying topical and temporal blindspots, in this case around key dates leading up to the presidential election.

More than bureaucratic planning, these date of Egypt’s presidential election underpinned two important political dynamics. First, the Muslim Brotherhood explicitly vowed not to enter a candidate into the presidential race and expelled one of its own leaders, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, when he declared his intent to run. Following this moving window is critical to watching the Brotherhood’s calculation of if and when it would nominate a formal candidate.

In late-February, before the date was known, here is a picture of the forecasted dates for the election and preceding candidate registration period:

Key Egyptian Presidential Election Dates

There was a peak in mid-April, as the closing date for candidate registration, and anticipating the elections in late June. Once the elections were announced as late May, we see a different picture of events, though with some additional texture.

When the elections were finally announced on February 29th, as slated for May 23, we can see how the forecasts adjust (by setting the publishing date after March 1st). Of course, we find a peak on the candidate closure date (April 8th) and the election dates, May 23rd and May 24th, but we also discover that June 21st is the date set for announcing the final voting results. Not only does this timeline give us a clear picture of dates and how they relate, but also we better understand the previous forecasts, specifically the follow-on announcement of voting results approximately one month after the election date.

In addition to Aboul Fotouh, several others had declared their candidacy (e.g. Amr Moussa) while rumors abounded about whom else might enter the race. To track these developments, I built a watchlist of the announced candidates, and another of the rumored and potential candidates. For the announced candidates, one can quickly develop a sense of varied sentiment for each of the candidates, as well as how each of them did or did not respond to one another (e.g. El Baradei’s formal withdrawal from the race).

A second dynamic was the revision of the constitution in light of presidential elections: the ascendent Muslim Brotherhood pushed for revision of the constitution after the presidential elections, whereas the ruling military, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), wanted to draft the constitution before the elections to ensure their contribution.

Tracking these shifting developments would typically require constant scanning of press, statement, and policy papers. With Recorded Future’s custom alerts, however, I receive email alerts based on my custom queries, for example, anytime a member of the SCAF talks about election dates or a Brotherhood official mentions the constitution.

Before, During, and After the Parliamentary Polls

In the months after its formation and up to the election bid, the FJP took time to organize; observers wondered how independent the leadership and platform of the FJP would be from the decision-making, influence, and structure of the Muslim Brotherhood. We will address the FJP-MB relationship in the next post — in this one, we will focus on the internal dynamics of the FJP.

First, let’s examine the timeline of events leading up to the November 28, 2011 polls. To narrow the scope of the analysis, it is possible to limit the publication time to not extend beyond November 28 — thus eliminating the benefit of hindsight. Also, we get a more textured narrative if we look at both the timeline of the party and then of just the leadership (from the watchlist created above) from the beginning of July.

Freedom & Justice Party Leadership Timeline up to November Polls

With lots of volatility in the months following its formation, the FJP had to decide where and how to spend their political capital — from  members of the Muslim Brotherhood youth defecting to issues of transitional justice to consolidation of a platform. In the weeks preceding the parliamentary elections, it became clear that the FJP was setting up for a larger win than initially imagined. Now, to contrast with the same picture of the FJP’s leadership with the same time period (the gray dots are incidents and reports):

Freedom & Justice Party Leadership Timeline up to November Polls

The clearest differences is that the volatility of momentum was much less during July and August and non-existent in September, but what does that mean? Once we investigate the reason for the peaks, different conclusions can be drawn about the FJP’s challenges during this time. Some of the attention around the FJP’s leadership, naturally, was surrounding announcements of political appointments and meeting outcomes. More specifically, we see two issues emerge: the drafting of the constitution and a platform issue about tourists visiting beaches dressing inappropriately according to the Muslim Brotherhood’s perspective. Later, the leadership highlights the military’s entrenchment, foreshadowing a mounting struggle.

A more complex view is the combined picture of the both the leadership and the party. The ability to disaggregate leadership statements and perspectives from the party overall adds a previously energy-intensive layer of analysis. For contrasting the visualization during and after the opening of the polls, we will just focus on the FJP party, and again Again, the publication time is set for after November 28, so we’re not including coverage form before the polls.

FJP & MB After Elections

There are two very sharp peaks — one in mid-December which reflects Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s assurance that sharia law should be applied gradually, likely to assure the West, observers, and Egyptian minorities that the Muslim Brotherhood was not “taking over” the country. The subsequent peaks are around the various rounds, followed by the second sharp peak, when results are announced.

With a sweeping victory, the FJP surprised several analysts who did not expect such a strong performance. In the weeks after the announcement of results, the Muslim Brotherhood, through the FJP, assures that it will not “Islamicize” Egypt. Importantly, Aboul Fotouh garners attention for calling for the Muslim Brotherhood to refrain from “partisan activity.” The last peak in late February is Secretary of State Clinton clarifying that the Brotherhood, now in power, will not renege on the long-standing peace treaty with Israel — an indication that the US wants to keep channels open to the ascendant FJP.

Lastly, let’s briefly look at what the FJP’s formation may have meant for its election bid. By comparing network maps before (left) and after (right) the elections, it is clear that the nodes organize into a more cohesive network. While this conclusion may appear obvious, it does not take much effort or time to confirm the hypothesis.

FJP Players Before Formation

FJP Players After Formation

Similarly, if we wanted to assess if this crystallization continued, we could do the same search for the past month. One of the key drivers of change is the stability and rigidity of an organization’s structure. By contrasting these views over time — and continuing to monitor the shifts — emerging players and patterns of increasing organization (or lack thereof) present themselves.

Conclusion — Comparing Political Presents

As political circumstances change, an expert can separate the signals from the noise. With the ability to constantly scan the horizon, Recorded Future’s custom alerts help track emerging signals, for example, shifting political alliances or the relationship between a recently empowered Muslim Brotherhood and entrenched ruling military. Additionally, we can place political developments in rapid-changing context by comparing relationships among the data before and after key moments. Lastly, Recorded Future shortens the cycle required to become familiar with the sources, stories, and subjects; data visualization provides a topographical map to navigate the terrain of a new topic.

Combining the levels of analysis described above, we now have a set of drivers to track developments in Egypt’s political landscape: FJP’s negotiations with other elements of the Islamist alliance, dates on drafting of the constitution, defections and desertions of the Muslim Brotherhood youth, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s increasing or decreasing coordination with the FJP.

In this post, we investigated the run up to Egyptian parliamentary polls, creation of a new political party, and subsequent results, focusing on answering three questions for the analyst:

  • How do I keep an eye on emerging signals?
  • How do I correct for the benefit of hindsight when assessing a paradigm shift (e.g. a revolution)?
  • Where are my topical and temporal blindspots?

For the last post, we will use Recorded Future to evaluate the background, impact, and anticipation of Khairat al-Shater’s presidential candidacy, the nature of relationship between the FJP and the Muslim Brotherhood, and potential tension points between the SCAF and FJP, focusing on answering three questions for the analyst:

  • How does an individual’s history change with an elevated profile?
  • What can be learned from one-time surprises (e.g. Khairat’s nomination)?
  • How are shifts in and struggles for power portrayed over time, across geographies, and amongst sources?